Whenever Ramadan is mentioned to people who have experienced the rich inner journey, community, and traditions of the month, the lack of food and water is the last thing that comes to mind.
Certainly the month of fasting involves hunger, thirst, and fatigue; but the memories made in the holy month outshine the sacrifice.
As my 16th Ramadan approaches, I think back on the life changing experiences of fasting Ramadan and the thought of giving up anything is a much welcome forfeiture.
2001: My First Ramadan
Through my entire life, the thought of nourishment always meant consuming food to keep the body strong. In November of 2001, I learned that nourishment can mean something different.
I converted in Ramadan and I was determined to start my life as a Muslim as best as I could. I was excited for the challenge of fasting.
As a Catholic during lent, I had abstained from snacks and only ate a small lunch during the day. So I figured giving up food and drink entirely wouldn’t be that much different.
It was very different from Lent. I found myself struggling, dehydrated, and weak. But as the month went on, I found that I was growing in strength in a different way. I grew in a way in which I had never realized I could.
As my body felt weaker, I felt better able to resist the urge to eat, the urge to curse, the urge to lie, the urge to look at the haram. My self-control grew.
As my stomach was emptied, the feeling of unease, the feeling like something was missing, the feeling of being empty even when my stomach was full, vanished. My heart filled with faith.
2004: My Third Ramadan.
My stomach had adapted to fasting and I was able to attend prayer and breaking the fast at the mosque most nights. However, what I found at the mosque was more than worship and food.
This year, I was fortunate to be a part of a community that help prepare iftar dinners nightly throughout the month of Ramadan. There would be so many brothers and sisters in the mosque breaking fast and praying together. Sometimes it would be several iftar regulars enjoying Ramadan and each other’s company.
Not being one who is used to crowds, it took some getting adjusted to the iftar and tarawih scene.
But in that month, I made fast friends who helped me with Quran pronunciation, and sat with me discussing our favorite hadith. I became excited to see my sisters and share South East Asian spices and flavorful Arabic foods with them.
By the middle of the month, I was very attached to a post-maghrib (evening prayer) walk and talk, that several sisters and I made our habit.
As the month came to a close, a couple ambitious ladies invited me to perform I’tikaf (seclusion). We stayed up all night alternating snacks, halaqas, laughs, and prayer. The sisters I spent Ramadan in the mosque with truly became my family.
My Morning Meal
2008: My Seventh Ramadan.
I was fortunate to have converted and started my first fast during an autumn Ramadan. The days were shorter and cooler.
Now into my seventh year as a Muslim, Ramadan was heating up and lengthening…
Not only was I getting into my first summer Ramadan, this year I lived much farther away from the local community and worked long hours. I felt depressed that I wouldn’t be able to attend the mosque for iftar or taraweeh as much as I wanted.
Spending the month running around at work, in the heat, was a new test for my endurance and will. But having already gotten used to fasting, it was not difficult to adjust to the new challenges Ramadan brought this year. I found that being busy during the day kept my mind busy and I hardly noticed the fast.
What I did notice was a new love for sitting in silence during suhoor. Cooler temperatures of morning greeted me as I woke in the dark.
This year, I was living with non-Muslim family and my husband was away for work. I was alone in Ramadan. But I didn’t mind it especially since it meant I had time to myself, to think, to enjoy a meal, to take my time, to remember Allah, to make du’a.
The meal in the morning before the sun warms the earth and wakes the day and everyone around me seemed like my secret, a secret I protect and reveled in, a secret time to worship in a different way.
Doing something new, different, and special is the cornerstone of making new traditions. As new converts come upon this year’s Ramadan and leave some old traditions behind. It is my hope that they can enjoy many of the traditions I have experienced in my 14 Ramadans.
This coming month of Ramadan, I plan on keeping old traditions, while making new ones, keep in touch with Ramadan family from the past while making new Ramadan family.
I look forward to the coming fast because it isn’t just about not eating, drinking or losing sleep. Ramadan is about finding your footing in faith, feeling renewed, creating community, and most of all, reconnecting with Allah.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)